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July 21. 2013 5:50PM

NH OKs opening of three new charter schools

The state's Board of Education has given the green light to open three new charter schools, and will hear a presentation next month from a group looking to establish a fourth.

The three schools approved last Thursday were the Gate City School for the Arts in Nashua, the Mountain Village Charter School in Plymouth and the Founders Academy Charter School in Londonderry.

"The Center would like to thank the State Board of Education and the Department of Education for moving quickly to address charter school applicants after the state budget deal was struck," said Matt Southerton, director of the New Hampshire Center for Innovative Schools.

"Within 48 hours of negotiations concluding, Commissioner Barry had met with four charter school applicants and the Board of Education had scheduled those groups to meet with the Board. It has been a challenging year for charter school applicants but the budget has been signed, the funding process has been fixed and soon New Hampshire children will have some exciting new options in public education."

The total number of approved charter schools in the state now stands at 21.

In September, 2012, the Board of Education announced a moratorium on new charter schools due to a lack of funds available to cover the adequacy payments of $5,450 per student the state doles out to charter schools. A new rule saying Education Board members can no longer deny a charter school application due to lack of state funding alone is also now in effect.

Chairman Tom Raffio said concerns about the lack of funds were addressed when money was included in the state's new two-year budget.

"The funds we needed were included in the budget," said Raffio.

In 2003, the state kicked off a 10-year pilot program to include up to 20 charter schools. Prior to 2003, charter organizers needed approval from the state and local school boards. In 2011, a bill was passed establishing the pilot program on a permanent basis and removing the 20 school maximum.

State education board members are expected to hold a conference early this fall to outline the details for a potential long-term policy on charter schools, said Raffio, given their popularity. State enrollment figures for the 2012-2013 school year show students attending charter schools account for about 1.5 percent of all school-age children in New Hampshire, or over 3,000. That number has jumped since 2007, when only 325 students attended charter schools.

Gate City in Nashua, which plans to cap enrollment at 180 students, has already heard from 175 interested families, said school co-founder Karin Cevasco.

"We are so excited to have the opportunity to open," said Cevasco. "Everyone involved has put in so much work on this, we can't wait to welcome the students."

Cevasco said she and others can now stop worrying about receiving state approval, and instead focus on getting the school ready to open in the fall of 2014. The next step in the process takes place Aug. 4, when interviews with volunteers interested in serving on the school's board of trustees are interviewed. They also need to find a physical location for the school. Applicants are not permitted to sign agreements for schools, such as leases, until they are approved to open by the state.

The founders of the Granite State Academy for the Arts had originally hoped to open a charter called the Seacoast Charter School in Exeter, but were told by education officials the state didn't need another charter school serving the Seacoast region because two were already up and running.

"Our school name has been legally changed to Granite State Arts Academy," said Chairwoman Wendie Leweck. "It became evident that this was necessary due to a location change to the Derry area, because the Department of Education wouldn't endorse a third high school."

The school is now looking to open in Derry, near the Salem border, and will enroll up to 40 students in each of four grades, offering four main programs centered around the arts — dance, music, theater and visual arts. Due to the recent change in name and potential location, Leweck wasn't ready to go before the board this month. She will give a presentation in August about her plans.

The Founders Academy looks to open in Londonderry in the fall of 2014 with a first year enrollment of up to 100 students in grades 6 and 7, adding approximately 100 students each year thereafter. The school will build to a maximum total enrollment of up to 650 students in grades 6-12 at full capacity. A target opening date has yet to be established.

The Mountain Village Charter School, a Montessori elementary school to be located in the Plymouth region, will serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade. According to its website, the school plans a September, 2014 opening with two first- through third-grade classrooms. A fourth- through sixth-grade classroom would open in September, 2015.

Attempts to reach Mountain Village organizers for comment were unsuccessful.

pfeely@unionleader.com


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